Plain People (Anabaptists)


The generic term, "plain people", as used on this site refers to a group of religious sects also sometimes called “Anabaptists”. They developed from a European reform movement out of dissatisfaction with the pace and extent of Luther’s Reformation in the early 16th century. Today’s major groups, Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterites, all share common beliefs in adult baptism, pacifism and separation of church and state, with strong emphasis on distinctive lifestyles, culture and dress that enhance their separation from society at large. These divisions are not static even today as minor modifications of these distinctions continue to generate new sects, although the basic tenets remain unchanged.

Misunderstandings and conflicts with authorities led to intense persecutions of early adherents resulting in considerable dispersion throughout Northern Europe and Western Asia in search of tolerance for what many considered to be radical beliefs. New converts from other populations in these new geographic areas and subsequent immigration to America in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the formation of isolates by founders who contributed their unique genetic heritage to the populations they founded. Subsequent isolation and endogamy have resulted in genetic pools of mutations which are sometimes unique to individual settlements. Many more common disorders (e.g., PKU, cystic fibrosis), of course, occur more widely among groups, albeit often as a result of unique mutations within well-known genes.

farm work

The basis for the population distinctions in the table of ‘disorders’ comes from this founder effect and subsequent genetic drift.  Further justification for such groupings comes from the unique surnames found in different isolates as well as blood group frequency distributions. These distinctions are:

MEN: United States general Mennonites (often referred to as Swiss-German Mennonites).

These are descendants of the 16th century Swiss Brethern movement whose adherents dispersed throughout Europe, including Germany, Switzerland and eastern France, with subsequent migration to Eastern Pennsylvania and later throughout the United States. Numerous sub-sects have formed but are all grouped in this category since Mennonites are generally more mobile and hence overlap to a considerable extent. Medical publications often are not specific in identification of the sect under study.

OOA: Old Order Amish (some are today known as New Order Amish)

planting cornThe Amish are descendents of a 17th century split from the Mennonite movement, led by Jakob Ammann who garnered his followers primarily from Swiss Mennonite migrants to the Alsace and Palatinate areas of Eastern France. They were early known as Amish Mennonites, but, following their immigration to America in two large waves (1727-1770 and 1815-1860) were simply called Amish. Most came from the 19th century Atlantic crossings and, finding the Eastern Pennsylvania Amish more traditional and conservative than what they were accustomed to, chose to move to Western Pennsylvania and later to Indiana and Ohio. Today they live in settlements in more than 25 states.

APA: Old Order Amish of Eastern Pennsylvania

These seem to be genetically distinct descendents of Ammann’s followers who, with the encouragement of William Penn, settled in a large tract in Eastern Pennsylvania (with today’s settlement centered in Lancaster County). These immigrants were among the earliest Swiss-German and Netherland Anabaptists to come to America to escape an increasingly hostile environment in Europe. The distribution of surnames and blood groups testify to their genetic uniqueness apart from other Amish settlements.

DGM: Dutch-German Mennonites

tiling the soil0010 Many Swiss Mennonites fled to the Netherlands where they enjoyed a period of relative freedom before being forced to flee again to Poland, then to the Ukraine, and finally to America. Perhaps 10,000 of the early immigrants settled in the Midwest where they gradually assimilated with other Anabaptists. More conservative immigrants from Russia in the 20th century settled in the provinces of Western Canada where today more than 27,000 live. These have remained relatively isolated with little interaction with other Mennonites so that slow genetic drift has created a generally unique genetic profile. As many as 7,000 of these early immigrants eventually settled in Mexico as well as in Central and South America where they presently number more than 75,000.

HUT: Hutterites

Hutterites are descendents of largely Austrian populations of Anabaptists who today live in several communal isolates in Western Canada.  Of all the groups, Hutterites have remained most isolated and today are the best defined population of plain people. Today they number more than 40,000 descended from about 100 immigrants in the mid-19th century.

Hostetler, J.A.:  Hutterite Society, 1974, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, Md.

Hostetler, J.A.:  Amish Society, 1993, 4th ed. Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, Md.

For additional information see: Publications, The Young Center of Anabaptist and Pietist studies at Elizabethtown College

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